The Mark Of A John Carmack Speech Is Silence

The Mark Of A John Carmack Speech Is Silence

John Carmack has given a lot of speeches in his time: to colleagues, compatriots and consumers. His keynote speeches used to be the highlight of Quakecon, for his uncanny ability to scythe through detail and history without being wholly inaccessible.

And whenever Carmack gives a speech, I always hear two sounds. The first is the sound of his voice and his metronomic-like delivery. And the second is the utter silence, the way his audience hangs on every single word.

Carmack has popped up again this week after being awarded a Fellowship, a lifetime achievement award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. BAFTA has been one of the most progressive academies when it comes to recognising the work in video games, and it was difficult not to honour Carmack’s achievements, both for his groundbreaking work at iD Software and now as the chief technology officer for Oculus.

Before Carmack gave his speech, a short video played with some of the industry’s peers. They explained his contributions, his lasting legacy, and the renown with which he’s held.

Creative Assembly’s Guy Davidson put it best: Carmack’s words have value. “What he says is well chosen; there’s always a sense of this is the essence, this is the nub of things.”

And so people listen, and the room falls completely silent. (His speech runs from 4m 45s to 7m 10s.)

The fact that you can hear the fans in the background is undoubtedly more to do with the audio mix and what’s being picked up by the microphones. But if you go back through all of Carmack’s speeches, you’ll notice the same behaviour. The concentration is total: everyone is focused on Carmack.

And let’s not forget that despite fitting the stereotypical image of a programmer — Carmack once gave a keynote at Quakecon for 55 minutes without moving before he decided to sit down — Carmack is an exceptionally good public speaker. His choice of language is clear and precise. His delivery is efficient; there’s no waffle, nothing said without meaning. He’s likeable, and you gain a greater appreciation for engineers the more he speaks.

As Carmack pointed out, he’s only 45 years old. He’s got a lot of coding left in his bones, and as the chief technology officer for Oculus there are plenty of technical quirks to resolve. He’ll undoubtedly give a lot more speeches in his time, and you can imagine they’ll all be characterised by the same thing: the sound of silence, as those gathered listen to his every word.


  • I have a lot of respect for this man. I can believe that the audience would hang on every word.

  • Carmack is amazing, 20 years old when he cofounded iD software, 22 when he helped make Wolfenstein, then just over a year later launching Doom. Its amazing to think he is only 45 when he seems like he has been around the coding world forever.

  • wow… that was captivating. i was hanging on to every word he was saying, just full of substance..

  • I’m just surprised that at this kind of event, there was a post-awards interview with people who actually seemed to know what the hell they were talking about, and what he was talking about. Not what I expected at what I thought would be an event with some kind of snobbery from traditional film/arts to the ‘new kid on the block’. (Eg: Take a non-gamer old-guard Hollywood type, late night show hosts especially, and get them talking games… cringeworthy. These people seemed to be game industry people.)

  • I listened to his Quakecon speech where he talked about how he developed 3D lighting for his games – as someone who knows very little about coding, it was incredibly fascinating and so approachable to a layman. I love people who can explain a concept without resorting to industry-exclusive terminology.

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